PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – While the national and local media descended upon the Los Angeles Lakers practice facility five miles away in El Segundo for their media day, the Los Angeles Clippers quietly went through their fifth practice of training camp and are already beginning to see signs of what could eventually become the best bench and the best second unit in the NBA this season.
During the off-season the Clippers were aggressive in shoring up their bench and signing a veteran presence at every position. They picked up former Sixth Man of the Year award winners Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, seven-time All-Star Grant Hill, as well as Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green and Ryan Hollins.
“We have some guys that understand how to play,” Hill said Monday after practice. “It’s a new environment for all of us but the concepts we’ve kind of seen them all before and done it all before. For a team that has a bunch of new faces and a unit that is playing together for the first time, it’s going better than I thought at this point. We all know each others’ games but getting a grasp of what the coach is throwing at us and learning on the fly, it’s pretty good. It’ll get better, but I like where we are right now.”
Hill and Odom are already getting a sense of where the other will be on the court when the second unit comes into the game. They’re not quite at mid-season form but they’re certainly further along than mid-training camp form after only a couple of practices.
“There was a couple of plays out there when me, Grant, Ronny, Matt Barnes and Willie Green, we just read each other and were able to make plays,” Odom said. “I hit Grant going back door and Matt and me and Ronny had a couple of plays in there. This team has a high IQ.”
This is exactly what Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro had in mind this offseason when he wrote a list of the players he wanted to go after to fill out his bench. He wanted versatile playmakers and good locker room guys like Odom and Hill, a pure scorer like Crawford and tenacious defenders like Green and Barnes.
“The experienced guys, their fundamentals and their understanding of things is better just because they’ve worked on those things forever,” Del Negro said. “We had a couple of good plays today where there was good eye contact and Grant got a backdoor from (DeAndre Jordan). It’s just a process in terms of working every day and getting them comfortable with what we’re trying to do.”
The player who will end up leading the Clippers’ veteran second unit once the season begins is 22-year-old point guard Eric Bledsoe, who is entering his third season in the league. Bledsoe, who will be the Clippers’ starting point guard during the preseason while Chris Paul recovers from thumb surgery, took a massive step in his development during the playoffs. He went from 3.3 points, 1.6 assists and 1.6 rebounds in the regular season to 7.9 points, 2.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds during the postseason.
“I really like Bledsoe,” Hill said. “I like his ability to attack the screen and roll, his decision making, we all know he’s a great athlete but he looks like he’s put in a lot of time working on his game this offseason. I’ve been impressed with his decision making and his talent level.”
As talented as Bledsoe is, the question is whether veterans like Hill, who turns 40 on Friday, take direction from Bledsoe when he’s running the second unit this season?
“It’ll just come from playing together and developing that trust,” Hill said. “We’ve only been on the court three days. He was with the first unit because Chris (Paul) is out. We’re all shooting for the same thing. We want the same thing. Even though he’s almost half my age I can take some criticism from Bledsoe but he’s got to take it from me too.”